Gifty Ako-Adounvo

Gifty Ako-Adounvo

Assistant Vice Provost for Global Strategies and International Affairs
Interim Senior International Officer
Office of International Affairs

If you had to define a Glass Breaker in one word, what word would that be? And explain why you chose that word.

If I were to define a Glass Breaker, it would be as someone who has foresight, someone who can imagine what comes next or where we need to go and can rally everyone around to get there irrespective of how fearsome that might be.

Describe your career path that has led to your current post.

My career path has been slightly meandering. I originally started out on a purely academic track. I expected that I was going to go the tenure track route, but I was a trailing academic spouse. So wherever I went, I had to find my own space. But it got to a point where I decided that I wanted to forge a career for myself in my own way.

I had been working in international ever since I was a graduate student and I really loved it — making connections with other people, building relationships. I decided to do that more full-time. I did come to Ohio State on the tenure track, but I really missed what I was doing before, and made the decision to go back to administration. My deans and department chairs were horrified, but that's what I wanted to do and I did it. I've been very fortunate to have had bosses who were wonderfully supportive. Of course, I've also worked very hard, and now I’m here.

How would you describe your leadership style?

My leadership style is empathetic and I practice participatory decision making. The work we do is about people and it is people who do this work. I find that if I am able to put myself in their shoes and understand where they're coming from and build a relationship with them, the work then follows, and we are able to overcome challenges quickly. It's very much a people-to-people sort of enterprise. I've seen fantastic results.

What were the best career investments you've made along the way?

The best career investment I've made is to get my PhD in classical studies. It's a very liberal arts field, and I remember everyone saying, "What are you going to do with classics?" I know it's pretty unusual, but it has been wonderful for me because one of the great things about classics is that it is one of the few opportunities we have to get a long view of human history and culture. The sorts of things that leaders and others were dealing with 2,000 some years ago — fortunately or unfortunately — are things we're still dealing with today. The fact is that there is a lot that we can learn from the past to avoid repeating some of the mistakes. I have found that it is not only having the academic credential, the doctorate, but also the full spectrum of a degree that allows me to see culture, history, language (and) international relations with a perfect-imperfect view. It has been incredibly personally enriching and important to what I do today.

Any mentors or champions who supported your professional development?

Definitely my family first. Beyond that, I do want to mention, although this is very much about women, I have had incredible men support me, and especially at Ohio State. I cannot name them all, but from the very first person, the first man who hired me here, and then the others who opened doors for me, encouraged me to walk through, allowed me to be my authentic self and supported me in every single way — they have been incredible champions and allies. I also have an incredible network of women who have cheered me along the way and have been there when things have been difficult, who have worked right alongside me, who have supported me. I wouldn't have been able to do what I do without that network and those champions.

How would you describe your career goals today? How have they changed over time?

My career goals may have taken a different form from what I had originally thought they would be but they have really not changed that much. When I was a child, I wanted to be a diplomat. I meandered a little bit, but today, leading the internationalization of Ohio State, I am serving in the role of the university's diplomat.

When we travel overseas, when students come here, when we send students abroad, when our faculty have research collaborations with other faculty and institutions around the world, being there and helping make that happen, bringing people together, is so important. I love what I do. I plan to keep doing it for a while. I'm not working in the foreign service, but I'm working at Ohio State, which is way more cool.

What kinds of challenges have you faced along the way, and how did you overcome them?

It can sometimes be difficult when I'm in a room and I know that the people there are looking for the man in charge. To overcome that, one of the things that I try to remember is that there have been women who have forged paths in circumstances that have been much more difficult than what I am facing, and it's a matter of seizing the moment, being my unique self, and saying, “This is where we are and this is what we need to do.”

As a woman, something that I have found is the need to draw upon an incredible well of confidence, the ability to build on empathy and to have the emotional intelligence that people are coming from different places. And if they're looking for the man in the room, well, I'm one more step to them realizing that it's not always going to be a man in charge.

When you think about serving in a leadership role as a female, do any unique experiences come to mind?

Some unique experiences as a female leader have been that my colleagues and other leaders that I come into contact with will sometimes open up to me in a way that they won't open up to male colleagues or others. This has allowed me to connect on that personal level.

I always believe in making friends before we need them. It has allowed me to build relationships with people who have been considered very difficult to deal with. Building those relationship means that my team and the university, as a whole, are able to reach our goals. Having that unique woman power has been wonderful.

What advice would you give to other women looking to reach similar goals?

I would say women looking to reach their goals should follow their path, no matter how atypical it might be, no matter how many naysayers there might be along the way. Remember that it is incredibly important to build a supportive network. Women should build a supportive network, follow their path, and keep their goals in sight at all times, keep their eye on the prize. Above all else, remember there's only one you — be yourself. You can be unforgettable, so use that as a strength.

What's next for you? Something you're looking forward to.

I am looking forward to continuing my leadership role at the institution in international affairs through what is a difficult political time. We've seen a retrenchment, not only in the United States but in Europe and other international places. Globalization has created some disparities that we need to address, but we cannot do that by saying, "That's it, we shut the doors.” Then what do we do? Some of challenges we face are those that the whole world faces. It's not a U.S. problem. We have to fix it together. I look forward to helping move us towards that goal.